Headlines this week ominously declared a massive backslide for Hillary Clinton with millennial voters. Donald Trump, however, polls even worse among voters ages 18 to 34. So where are the coveted millennials — the second-largest voting block in the country — casting their vote?
Recent polls point to third-party candidates. A September 15 NBC News poll showed third-party candidates receiving 44% of the millennial vote — 29% for Gary Johnson and 15% for Jill Stein. In the electorate as a whole, Johnson polls at around 8.6%, and Stein at 3.1%.
Even with this impressive millennial support, however, it's unlikely Johnson or Stein will win. America's winner-take-all system — in which the candidate with the most votes wins all the whole state, rather than dividing it proportionally — makes it extremely difficult for third-party candidates to gain traction in the electoral college.
In fact, the last eight third-party candidates failed to win even one electoral vote. And now that politics is becoming increasingly divided along party lines, people are even less likely to vote for a third party.
Political scientist Walter Stone said this growing divide may be why third-party candidates get a disproportionate amount of millennial support. Younger voters, having spent less time in the political system, are less likely to identify strongly with either party. According to Stone, this makes them more open to third-party appeals.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
But many millennials who previously voted Democrat or Republican say this election is a turning point for them.
Ken Knight, from Los Angeles, California, has voted Democratic his whole life. He even started a "Students for Barack Obama" group as a child. But this year, he's voting for Gary Johnson.
"I don’t want to give Donald Trump kill lists," Knight explained to Revelist. "And I don’t want to give Hillary the power of indefinite detention, either ... As of now, I find both parties flawed, authoritarian, and simultaneously driven to expand executive power."
That doesn't mean the decision is easy: Millennials struggle with the idea that voting for an unlikely candidate is throwing away their vote. And even if they come to terms with this decision, their partisan peers will hold them accountable.
Holly Crosen from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania said she found herself in a Facebook comment battle with a friend when she revealed her plans to vote for Johnson. Her friend wanted her to accept the two-party system, and not waste her voice on a "protest vote."
"He told me that we should vote in the system we live in, not the system we want," Crosen told Revelist. "If we just lived in the system and never tried to change it, I'm pretty sure we would all still be British."
Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
Stone said the defiant millennial support for third-party candidates could sway the election, but perhaps not in the way they hope.
"The current polling so far suggests that the third party candidates this year might hurt Clinton," he told Revelist.
Indeed, Barack Obama relied heavily on the millennial vote to push him to victory in 2012. In general, Democrats see more support from younger voters. Still, Stone believes many who claim to be third-party voters will fall into line on election day — or simply not vote at all.
That’s the option Ben Warner, a millennial living in Los Angeles, California is considering. He doesn't want to be responsible for getting Trump elected, but strongly disagrees with Clinton's policies.
"I find myself between a rock and a hard place," he told Revelist. "Hillary says to vote my conscience, but my conscience says both candidates are crap."Main Image: Flickr/Theresa Thompson/2.0